Koch Vision // 2003 // 144 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jonathan Nelson (Retired) // July 18th, 2003
An unlikely journey from Moscow to Nashville.
An unforgettable true story.
When I think of country music, I think of Nashville. The last place I think of is Russia. And I'm not even a big fan of country music in the first place, but I am a fan of Russia. Oh what to do, what to do! Thankfully, I have Bering Strait to my rescue!
They emerged from a small town called Obninsk, two hours outside of Moscow. It took them a two hour train ride to get to their music academy every morning, in downtown Moscow. After an exhausting seven to ten hour day practicing music, they would take the last two hour train ride back home each night. And they were doing this for most of their lives. Why? So they could make it big in America.
The Ballad of Bering Strait, as they would become known, may be Russia's only well-known country music band. And if you're in country, then there's only one place to go, Nashville.
Starry-eyed, they arrived at Nashville International Airport on a night long ago. Convinced that stardom was only a matter of formalities, they set forth into the unknown land where the American Dream makes everyone's dream come true.
But it doesn't take long for trouble to arrive. Record companies fold and deals that were set in stone crumble to dust. Their audience is reluctant to embrace a Russian country act, and fear of being labeled a "novelty" instead of being recognized for the talent they obviously do have weighs heavily on their producers. The years roll over, one to the next, and after tragedy and tragedy befall their intrepid group, they soldier on and continue to work.
The myth of the "overnight success" is quickly put to rest in this true story of dedication. Filmed by Nina Gilden Seavey (Paralyzing Fear: The Story of Polio in America, The Battle of the Alamo) and winner of the Audience Award from the Washington DC International Film Festival, The Ballad of Bering Strait is a powerful reexamination of the American Dream.
Filmed on location in Russia and America entirely on digital video, the documentary follows the band from their homes in Obninsk to wherever fate has in store for them. Had this been a Hollywood production, their troubles would have ended by the beginning of the third act and we would be mired with yet another pointless love triangle to distract us from the real story, which would be relegated to the background: the music.
And as for the music? Wow, these kids can play! Regardless of how much you like country music, these kids' talent is undeniable. If the teen bands of America of the late 20th century had a tenth of the musical ability as these kids, the record industry might be an entirely different place than it is today.
That's part of the problem, because these kids were part of the late 20th century too, and in America at the time. Cultural differences and preconceptions, all too familiar players in America's mired past, again throw their wrenches into the machinery. So we got N*Sync and Christina Aguilera, instead of people with actual talent. Fortunately, the problem has been fixed, and for at least one group maybe the worst of their trouble lies behind them. It is a sad story, but so is life sometimes.
The video looks like a home movie, which in many respects it is. It is a clean image, but you can tell a huge Hollywood budget was not behind the production. The music is caught on Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, which plays well on all five speakers, with attention to the subwoofer as well. Their music couldn't sound better, from a technical point of view.
These kids are from Russia, so naturally they speak Russian most of the time. Subtitles pop up when needed, but a fair percentage of the documentary is in English or with English voice-overs. Most of the kids can speak at least some English before they leave for Nashville, but it is amazing to be able to watch their English improve as they become fluent in speech and dialogue over the course of the three years the documentary follows.
Extra features include your standard theatrical trailers, two for this movie, a shorter and a full length version.
There is an extended scene of the band sitting around a campfire, having a good time, while one of the members sings a Russian campfire song. No subtitles in this one.
Next is their Grammy-nominated music video, an instrumental piece chronicling their travels in America with a montage of clips.
Finally there is their entire 30 minute performance from their first big concert tour, uncut as it actually happened.
Not listed in the extra features and actually not on the DVD itself, but on the insert sleeve in the case, are bios for all the musicians in the band. What they like, how they got into music in the first place, short pieces of information that is interesting but could not fit on the disc for some reason.
I first watched this disc on a Pioneer five-disc DVD player, and the movie played fine without any problems, but when I tried the extra features, something odd occurred. There was no sound in any of them. I checked the audio settings, made sure mute wasn't hit accidentally, but as far as I could tell everything was in perfect working order, except for the fact that there was no sound. I took the disc out, tried another bay, but the same problem occurred. So I took the disc and put it in my older Sony single disc DVD player, and this time everything worked fine, sound and all. I tried the Pioneer once again, and still no sound for the extra features. Why did this happen? I still don't know, but all I can say is if you have a Pioneer DVD player, this may happen to you as well.
Probably not something you want to watch on a Friday night with your significant other, but definitely worth checking out if you feel you won't have to work for your success. High school teachers would do well to show this to their charges.
These kids have been through enough heartache and trouble that this court finds no reason to add to their misery. They are free to live the American Dream with the court's blessing.
Review content copyright © 2003 Jonathan Nelson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 144 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Video of Grammy-Nominated Single
* Theatrical Trailers
* Extended Scenes
* Exclusive Live Concert
* Official Site